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November 2006, Volume 9/ Number 11
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IT Convergence Transforms the Unified Communications Landscape

By Tony Rybczynski and Greg Saint James

 

IT convergence, the bringing together of telecommunications and IT technologies, represents an industry inflection point that will take Unified Communications beyond the early adopter stage to becoming mainstream in enterprises.

Unified Communications represents the unification of presence, real-time communications (IM, telephony, video, and application sharing) and near-real-time communications (email, voicemail, short message services) into a single user experience. It addresses the growing complexity of managing, securing, and using multiple modes of communications, to support increasingly mobile, global organizations. It is personal and intuitive, flexible and trustworthy, convenient, accessible from anywhere, on any device, and integrated with collaboration tools. But the definition of Unified Communications goes beyond integrated communications to communications integrated with business processes.

Unified Communications is Business Transformational
When Unified Communications moves from being solely an end user productivity tool to allowing communications-enabled business processes and applications, it becomes truly business transformational.






For example, time-to-decision is critical, whether applied to new product introduction, crisis management, or customer service. Gartner (News - Alert) estimates that 85% of business processes are impacted by human delays. Communications enabling an application such as supply chain management allows it to more quickly resolve supply chain issues, by setting up a collaborative session at the earliest possible time (e.g. based on presence, location, and calendar information) with all stakeholders (e.g. the project manager, any of three project engineers, someone from accounting) and delivering relevant information to these participants. Vertical applications, such as clinical Point of Care and hospitality facility management systems, can also be communications-enabled.

This broader view of Unified Communications addresses the needs of three key stakeholders in the enterprise environment:

1. The end user through role-based communications capabilities (e.g. delivering business-grade telephony and information access for the retail service worker, and rich collaboration anytime, anywhere for the knowledge worker and mobile executive) with a high degree of personalization and reachability control.

2. The Line of Business (LOB) or Business Decision Maker (BDM) through Unified Communications-enabled contact centers for new levels of customer service, transforming the contact center into a more effective up-selling and cross-selling vehicle; and through communication-enabled business processes across the enterprise and to partners, to minimize human delays and accelerate time-to-service, time-to-product, time-to-resolution, and time-to-revenues.

3. IT through optimal use of capital and operational resources by delivering SLA-based Unified Communications services and capabilities to end users and LOBs on a common software platform, over an application-aware network that delivers robust and secure operation, and consistent Quality of Experience (QoE) for all users.

From Vision to Execution
Few would dispute the transformational nature of the software-centric approach to Unified Communications in delivering rich collaborative tools to employees anytime, anywhere, in transforming contact centers, and in minimizing human delays in business processes. The vision is clear � execution is paramount.

There are four real-world business realities that must be addressed if an enterprise is to accelerate the realization of this vision, while minimizing the business and technology risks of adopting these transformational solutions.

Firstly, business telephony is at the heart of real-time communications today and going forward. They are very reliable, feature-rich and deliver high quality. The enterprise must have the flexibility to pace its evolution to IP telephony (an important first step), to Unified Communications and to communications-enabled business processes, in line with business priorities.

Secondly, the Unified Communications platform needs to be scalable and reliable, have operational characteristics that will minimize Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and be part of a large open ecosystem to offer optimal agility in communications-enabling business processes. The path to lowest TCO is a common software-centric platform for Unified Communications, integrated into enterprise directories and into data center environments.

Thirdly, the reliability, security, and QoE risks associated with rolling out Unified Communications over the enterprise IP network must be eliminated. This drives the need for intelligent application-aware wide area, campus, and data center networks.

Finally, in accelerating the realization of the business benefits of Unified Communications, enterprises may need to complement in-house skills and resources by turning to a trusted partner who can assist in such tasks as transitioning an existing telephony system to IP telephony, incorporating the latter into a Unified Communication system, setting up an SLA-driven management environment, and integrating Unified Communications into business processes.

IT Convergence Changes the Communications Landscape
The recently announced Innovative Communications Alliance (www.innovativecommunicationsalliance.com), is unique in that it brings together leading telecom and software suppliers in a first-of-its-kind relationship to accelerate the business-driven transformation of voice, video, data communications into software-centric Unified Communications, while ensuring the highest quality of experience.

Through IT convergence, Unified Communications increases user productivity via people-centric communications; transforms multimedia contact centers to reach experts across the enterprise for more engaging customer service; and increases business effectiveness through communications-enabled business processes. It eliminates the barriers between private and public networks through secure seamless mobility; and extends real-time collaboration beyond the enterprise to federations of partners, suppliers, and customers. Superior and consistent quality of experience is delivered through highly resilient and reliable application-aware networking, while lower total cost of ownership is delivered through common software-based platforms integrated with the data center.

Creating a three- to five-year plan of user groups and business processes targeted for Unified Communications can help you make the right technology, architecture, and partnership decisions right now! IT

Tony Rybczynski is Nortel (News - Alert)�s Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies and has over 30 years experience in application of packet network and convergence technologies. Greg Saint James is a Senior Director of Marketing at Microsoft (News - Alert) and manages the Innovation Communications Alliance.

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